The front and rear axles are key to Daimler Trucks North America's strategy of expanding its offerings of proprietary powertrain components, company executives announced yesterday.
The launch marks the first time that Detroit Diesel Corporation -- now known as Detroit -- has offered axles. Plans also call for a Detroit-branded transmission, probably an automated-mechanical type, which will allow Daimler to offer a complete powertrain, said Brad Williamson, the company's manager of engine and component marketing.
Manufacturing its own axles is a matter of self-defense for DTNA, which couldn't get enough of them from vendors last year, said Mark Lambert, senior vice president, sales and marketing.
"Meritor and Dana told us, 'This is all we can provide,' and we missed out on producing many more trucks that we could've sold," he said. The two vendors' axles will still be offered by DTNA, although it has made Detroit axles standard in some truck models.
"We spent $45 million on gear-cutting machinery in 2011," and it was installed at Detroit's plant in Redford, Mich., across an alley from the City of Detroit, where the operation's headquarters is located, he explained.
Workers produce components and assemble the axles, then ship them to DTNA's truck plants in Portland, Ore., the Carolinas, and Saltillo, Mexico.
The axle products are based on Mercedes-Benz designs that were adapted for North American use, Williamson said. The range includes front axles of 6,000 to 20,000 pounds capacity, single rear axles of 13,000 to 26,000 pounds, and tandem rears from 34,000 to 46,000 pounds.
Rather than produce axles to merely extend the practice of vertical integration -- a trend in recent years among all truck builders -- Detroit axles are part of what DTNA calls "vehicle integration" that offers greater efficiency and product value to customers.
The axles include features not found in vendor products, Williamson said. Robust design and precision manufacturing allow Detroit to offer standard 5-year/750,000-mile warranties on many axle models.
Exclusive features in steer axles include low-friction needle bearings instead of bushings, lighter weight, wheel cuts of up to 55 degrees for excellent maneuverability, and more weight ratings to meet customers' specific requirements. One rating is 12,500 pounds, which no other axle maker offers, he said.
Rear axles use Hypoid and Topoid gears for efficiency and zero-angle connections with U-joints, roller bearings in interaxle differentials to reduce friction and heat, and enhance reliability. Any axle ratio can be supplied to suit a customer's operative needs. An Intermediate Track 40,000-pound tandem can be switched from single to dual wheels and back.
"Support is just as important or more important than the products," Williamson said, so Detroit has set up a complete support organization. Field managers are stationed around the country and dealer technicians are trained to repair and service the axles. They are backed by call centers in Detroit and Portland where specialists provide advice and guidance.
A carrier exchange program allows free trading of gear sets among new vehicles so customers can get the correct ratio in units that were incorrectly ordered. But to limit the need for those exchanges, a computer-based tool recommends the correct ratio for an application during the ordering process.
Detroit axles are available in Freightliner heavy and medium-duty trucks, down to the M2-106 midrange model; in Class 8 Western Stars; in Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation's walk-in vans; and in Thomas Built buses. Complete specification sheets are at www.detroitdiesel.com.